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In the Trenches: Customer loyalty has changed course

The neighborhood grocery stores of yesteryear used to own almost every customer on the block. Back then those “loyal” customers were faithful to one and only one grocer. But eventually those stores were replaced by larger, modern supermarkets. During that transition period, the loyal customers moved on to the next shopping environment.Loyal-Customers

Business and shopping habits have changed even more in the past 10 to 15 years. No longer is there an affinity to only one store, one supplier, one brand or one program. Loyalty has made an about-face due to the many business modifications that have risen as there are more and more choices for consumers today.

Many new advances in retail competing have risen. Instantaneous communicating through technology, social media, smart phones and other wireless systems are only some of the means of luring customers into state-of-the-art shopping practices. Just consider how online shopping has transformed the retail business.

According to the U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends, the average customer shops at a little more than four different competing supermarkets in a month. Although some shoppers prefer a primary store, they still manage to patronize other food outlets.

What does all this mean for produce? How does it affect the produce department, the buyers, the salespeople, the growers and the suppliers? Does it change any of those loyal customers that may still be hanging around?

Here are some grocery shopper preferences that influences them to sticking around as a one-store loyal customer:

Convenience: People like to shop where it’s easy and simple. They prefer a supermarket that primarily has the best fresh fruits and vegetables for an easy shopping experience.

Freshness: The fresh departments are the main reason customers will stay with their primary store. A high-quality produce, meat, seafood, deli and bakery department is at the top of the consumer list. Consistent freshness keeps them as a regular customer.

Selection: A variety of choices and sizes is especially important. Most customers would like to buy what they need in one store. Offering a wide variety of produce prevents them from going to other stores with a chance of staying there.

Quality: Customers basically want the best for their money. Popular brands and premium quality produce will bring customers back again and again. Well-recognized labels raise the quality level of the produce that customers take home.

Prices: Attractive retails are one of the biggest drawing points. Exceptional weekly ad features are also highly influential in attracting shoppers to a store. Discount prices, ad features, good values and in-store specials are part of establishing regular customers.

Service: Consumers want to be recognized and given assistance in a store. When customers are treated friendly and can get through the checkout lines at a reasonable pace, they will probably make that store their primary shopping choice.

If you are a supplier and have dealt with the same customer for 10 to 15 years, do you think they won’t leave you and head to a supplier that offers a better deal?

If you are a retailer, do you think your best loyal customers will stick with you forever? In reality, a few slip-ups and they will leave in a heartbeat to other supermarkets.

Loyal customers are like pure gold. Companies should not take for granted that loyalty is still around. Customers are only loyal to themselves. It wouldn’t take much to chase people over to competitors, especially if the store standards started to slip, service dropped off, prices became higher, or the produce department wasn’t as fresh and attractive as in the past.

Shoppers said they would leave a store for any reasons of inferior product quality and condition, poor service, out of stocks, excessive prices, insufficient communication and a bad shopping experience. When only a fraction of that begins, loyalty is lost.

Ron Pelger is the owner of RonProCon, a produce industry advisory firm. He is also a produce industry merchandising director and a freelance writer. He can be contacted at 775-843-2394 or by e-mail at